Girl and father barbecuing

How To Get Your Little One To Like Meat

Posted on May 17, 2023. Last updated on September 29, 2023
Alyssa a registered dietitian
Written by Alyssa

So many moms and dads reach out to me asking how they can get their kiddos to eat meat. Most people, especially Americans, have a meat-based diet and are concerned when their children don’t eat as much meat as they expect them to.

First and foremost, remember your little one doesn’t have to eat meat to eat healthy. There are many other protein sources we can add to their diet that aren’t meat-based. They can meet their protein needs, develop normally, and thrive without a meat-based diet.

However, I want to share some tips and tricks to get your child more familiar with meat so that they may eventually come to accept it as a normal part of their diet.

The Type Of Meat Matters

Adults tend to lean toward lower-fat proteins like chicken and turkey–both breasts and ground. But when we serve these cuts to our kids, they tend to be a little too dry for their palate and will be more difficult to chew and swallow, activating their gag reflex. Even up to five years old, children are learning how to chew properly and navigate food around their mouths.

Instead of lean meats, opt for sources with more moisture and higher fat content. Typically you will be safe choosing dark meat over light meat–something like the dark meat of a chicken, a roast cut, or pork.

Helpful Preparation Techniques

A whole chicken breast is going to be more difficult for a child to navigate than shredded chicken. Picky eaters usually have an easier time accepting meat when it is shredded, ground, or in a meatball shape.

Try adding sauces on the side or incorporating that sauce into your cooking. Keep it flavorful and interesting! Breading is usually well-accepted by picky eaters. Test things out and see what works for you. Then figure out how to make the meat you want them to have in a form you know they’ll accept.

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Start Small

Kids need a lot less protein than you may think. A large chicken breast has 30-50 grams of protein and kids just don’t need that much in a single meal! When we keep that in mind, we can start serving meat in smaller amounts and adjust our expectations.

For example, when you make spaghetti, instead of adding one pound of ground beef per jar of sauce, use only a quarter or a half pound. Over time, add more and more meat each time you cook it, or cook the meat separately so you can decide how much each member of the family gets.

This is an introductory version of fading–slowly adding the food you want them to eat into a food they’ve already accepted–a concept we cover in depth in my Table Talk Course.

Keep It Fun

Keeping things fun and interesting at the table will help open your child up to trying new things. I’ve seen so much success in offering meat in a meatball form! 

They can use their hands, poke it with a food pick, lick it, take it apart, use tongs or utensils, or call it a lollipop! Make it out of different meats or buy them premade and pair them with various sauces. Make them in differing shapes and sizes, allowing them to pick which ones they want to eat that day.
When we find new, fun, and exciting ways to serve our kids food, they’re more likely to accept it. And while these tips work for many, they may not work for all. Maybe you feel like you’re in too deep and you’re tired of the struggles that come at dinner time. If you’re ready to take back control and become your child’s feeding expert, join my Table Talk Community. You’ll learn strategies and methods that will kick picky eating to the curb for good.

Alyssa Miller picky eating dietitian
Hi there! My name is Alyssa

I'm a registered dietitian and picky eating specialist with nearly a decade of experience, mom of three, and the founder of Nutrition for Littles. I'm dedicated to making mealtimes enjoyable and nutritious for families.

Do you need more help with your picky eater? I want to invite you to my free class to reverse picky eating!

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